Le Pho was a Vietnamese artist best known for his idyllic paintings of flowers and women in ao dai dresses. He belonged to the first generation of Vietnamese artists who established an art career in Paris.
Le Pho’s works are among the highest in demand in the Southeast Asian market. In May 2019, his Nue (Nude) — a rare oil on canvas painted by the artist while he was residing in Hanoi — sold for $1,392,039 at Christie’s. It belonged to the Tuan Pham Collection, one of the most important Vietnamese art collections to sell at auction.
Le Pho was born in Hanoi, Vietnam in 1907. He trained at the École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in Hanoi, alongside renowned artists such as Mai Trung Thu, Vu Cao Dam, Nguyen Phan Chanh and To Ngoc Van. Run by French painter Victor Tardieu, the school introduced Western modernist approaches to the fabric of Vietnamese art. After five years at the academy, Le Pho received a scholarship, the Prix de I’Indochine, which enabled him to travel to Paris.
In Paris, Le Pho participated in the critically-acclaimed Colonial Exposition and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. He returned to Hanoi in 1932 as a professor at the city's École des Beaux-Arts. With the escalating war in Vietnam, Le Pho returned to Paris in 1937, where he stayed for the rest of his life.
Many of Le Pho’s early works were painted on silk in a muted palette. Jeune femme attachant son foulard (Young Lady Tying Her Scarf) (1938) — a meticulous rendering of a woman with a white headdress against a misty Tonkin landscape — is a typical example from this period. In the same year this work was executed, Le Pho held his first solo exhibition in Paris, cementing his trajectory as an established artist in Europe.
Between 1946 and 1962, Le Pho was represented by Galerie Romanet. During this time, Le Pho continued to paint in silk but with harsher and intensified colours. Experts have often described that these changes to his style demonstrate the artist’s reflection on the sociopolitical events occurring around him.
In 1963, Le Pho met and began to work with American gallerist Wally Findlay. With the support of Findlay Galleries, Le Pho’s ethereal paintings of flowers and women reached the American art market. He experimented with employing oil paint, more robust colours and bolder brushstrokes. Le Pho also nurtured his deep interest in painting flower bouquets, illustrated in Les Anthuriums — a blossoming display of pinks and reds overflowing from an exquisite porcelain vase.